Bugs and workarounds editing multi-cam

Multicam editing at Casual Dog Productions, LLC
Multicam editing at Casual Dog Productions, LLC

We recently did a small multicam shoot for some circus artist friends, and were reminded not to cut corners in prep…  Specifically, don’t rely on software to sync your clips for you!  It is worth taking the time to carefully and correctly slate every take.  Editing, and the entire post process, will be so much smoother if you do.

I have shot multi-cam plenty of times.  My last big project was a school musical: three shows, three cameras per show, plus 14 channels of audio direct to disk with ProTools.  There were issues, there are always issues…  But we were careful to slate every single take, so it moved pretty smoothly.

The biggest hassle with that production was moving audio from Avid Pro Tools into Avid Media Composer!  Yes, I know, same company… The history is pretty divergent, Avid having swallowed ProTools’ creator, DigiDesign, some years ago.  It is a pretty recent development that you can even run Pro Tools and Media Composer on the same computer.  But editing on Avid, then exporting the audio to ProTools, then finally finishing with the mix from ProTools is a pretty standard workflow.  What hung me up at first was trying to go from Pro Tools to Media Composer using AAF files (the OMF successor) that just pointed at the actual audio files on disc.  It is supposed to work, but I couldn’t make it…  Once I gave up and embedded the audio in the multitrack AAF file, it went smoothly.

Hey, hard disk space is cheap.

Media Slate really is the premier slating app...
Media Slate really is the premier slating app…

With this shoot, we were using a similar setup.  Fewer mics, but also lighting the performers in a challenging space.  So when we were ready to role, and the updated version of Movie*Slate wasn’t clapping at first, we steamrolled on ahead.  I figured that software, either Adobe Premiere Pro (where we planned to edit) or Red Giant’s Plural Eyes, or maybe even iMovie Pro X (also known as Final Cut Pro X), would handily sync up the various clips and files.  This was true – but at the cost of hours of mucking around that we would have avoided if we had a good slate for every take.

If you don’t know, the slate, classically using a clapper board, is actually a vital part of film production.  Not an affectation at all.  The slate uniquely identifies each and every bit of film, video, or audio in a production, and provides a precise sync mark for lining things up.  It doesn’t matter as much if you are shooting with a single camera.  But with three separate video clips and three or four audio clips for each take…

Plural Eyes can sync clips by matching audio
Plural Eyes can sync clips by matching audio

All of the software I mentioned can now do what Plural Eyes pioneered: sync all these files up by matching the audio.  Automatically.  In theory…  I have had fairly good luck with Premiere Pro and Final Cut X.  But they are both black boxes – they either get it in sync, or fail.  No tweaking.  Plural eyes is a bit more deep and robust, and this project needed that extra help.  In principle, I should have been able to ingest everything into Premiere Pro, then export a sequence to Plural Eyes, finally re-importing the result.  If only…

First, I ran into a version incompatibility: Plural Eyes doesn’t seem able to read Premiere Pro CC projects, only older versions.  I fussed around with that for a while before I gave up. But I could export a Final Cut Pro 7 XML file from Premiere, then bring that into Plural Eyes. Problem solved….

Then, I ran into some bugs in Premiere Pro.  One of the basic features in a modern non-linear editing program (not just Media Composer or Premiere Pro – also iMovie and Windows Movie Maker and such) is making subclips.  For example, we had let our #3 camera run continuously – it was up in the balcony, after all.  So we ingested that entire big clip, then used markers to cut it up into subclips.  Except Premiere Pro had a bad case of gas over this! Instead of exporting the subclips, it kept sending the entire, original clip.  And Plural Eyes was confused by this big wad of material.

The timeline screenshot
The timeline screenshot

What’s a filmmaker to do?  Well, first I wasted a bunch more time.  Eventually, though, I fired up MPEG Streamclip, the fantastic video Swiss Army Knife by Squared 5.   This gem let me manually create and save subclips, dicing up the original video files, which I then sent to Plural Eyes.  In the end, all but one of the takes were perfectly synchronized by Plural Eyes – one clip in one take I had to do by hand.  That is tricky – one of the aerialists is a violinist, and lining up a legato instrument is much harder than something more percussive (like drums or even piano or guitar).  And, it turns out, Plural Eyes isn’t quite as facile as Pro Tools at zooming in on waveforms.

Now all that needs doing is actually editing!

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